Deep in Miami's Design District

The Design District delivers high-style home, fashion and accessories shopping—all in a quaint and artsy environment

Miami is a city of dichotomy: One where concrete and lush tropical landscape co-exist, where urban ghettos and ritzy high-rises stand together and where paint-splattered sneakers seamlessly walk the same sidewalk as sky-high pumps.

A burgeoning fashion spot in the Magic City that exemplifies this yin and yang is the Design District. Just a few blocks north from the hipster village of Wynwood, the 18-square-block neighborhood is an amalgamation of luxury and local flair. Brands known worldwide, such as Christian Louboutin, Celine, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, line the streets of the burgeoning neighborhood on the same blocks as local, one-of-a-kind eateries and thrift stores.

“The Miami Design District blends culture, creativity and commerce, offering experiences that can’t be duplicated,” said Craig Robins, president of Dacra, a partner in the district. “Visitors and residents of Miami come to the District to enjoy exhibitions of art and collectible design; unique, artistic presentations of luxury fashion and accessories; innovative cuisine; and the urban fabric of a pedestrian-centric environment with numerous public art projects.”

Perhaps hidden by the never-ending construction by I-195, the Design District sits by Midtown Miami and boasts a variety of restaurants and shopping venues. Even though many international companies have made the district a home for a Miami outpost, many of them have opted to create a look that blends into the South Florida area. Red-soled shoe designer Christian Louboutin’s store features orchids hanging from the outside walls, and inside is a funky spider webbing of pink and purple descending from the ceiling and walls. Hermès, which left Bal Harbour on Miami Beach for the district, teases with a temporary, Parisian-style post before it opens its Miami flagship store in 2014.

However, no store stands out more than French fashion house Louis Vuitton. In October 2012, the brand made waves when it teamed up with graffiti artist RETNA, known for his lettering technique, to paint the outside of the store. Using purple, blues and pinks, RETNA created a floor-to-ceiling piece of art bearing the store’s name.

“I love that the luxury shops are not just setting up shop in this really cool, gritty sort of hipster area, but they’re paying homage to it with their own designs and people that they work with,” said Miami fashion blogger and stylist Amanda del Duca.

The ability for the two worlds of fashion and business to coexist has been beneficial for local stores making their way in the economy. Theresa Turchin, who owns jewelry store Turchin Love & Light with her husband, has been at the Design District for seven years—before the district really saw the boom it is experiencing today.

“It’s definitely drawn more people to the district. It used to be more of a ghost town on the weekends and now we have a stream of people coming in,” Turchin said.

For international furniture showroom Poltrona Frau Group Miami, choosing the Design District more than 12 years ago was a no-brainer. Originally, principal Giampiero Di Persia was considering Coral Gables farther south or Design Center of the Americas in Dania Beach, but a conversation with DACRA president Robins changed that.

“I chose the Miami Design District after speaking with Craig Robins about his vision of the rebirth of the Design District and looking at city development plans,” Di Persia said in explaining Poltrana Frau’s decision. At this architecturally funky showroom—the outside is a mix of gray and orange contemporary style—visitors and buyers are in for a treat for the eyes with modern-style pieces that showcase vintage detailing.

Another furniture company, Luminaire, opened in 1974 in North Miami Beach before moving to Coral Gables two years later. In 2002, a new store was opened in the Design District and has only grown—it now occupies the entire, 15,000-square-foot building that houses its showroom. With such a large space, staff can host exhibitions and special events. “We always wanted to design and build our own building that would represent an all-encompassing philosophy about design,” said Nasir Kassamali, the cofounder and president of Luminaire. “If Craig Robins and his partners go through with the development as planned, the Design District will become an area where one could spend a day to experience all the senses, and Luminaire will be in the center of it all.”

The high volume of quality furniture showrooms is exactly what brought another furniture designer, Armani/Casa Miami, to the district in April 2012, as well as its centrality to South Beach and the interstates. “The Miami Design District nowadays represents the highest concentration of luxury-design-furniture showrooms in the USA,” said CEO Massimo Melchiorre. “It’s growing.”

SLIDESHOW: Miami's Design District (All photos ©Robin Hill)